Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What is the NCAA enforcement team looking at when investigating Johnny Manziel's eligibility? Part 3: Teaching basic legal analysis through college football.

All NCAA student-athletes must be eligible to compete. All must be "amateurs" to be eligible. Among other things, a student-athlete is no longer an amateur and is ineligible if the individual:
  • Uses his or her athletics skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport;
  • Accepts a promise of pay even if compensation is deferred to a time after the student-athlete's eligibility has expired; or
  • Enters into an agreement with an agent.
An "agent" is:
"any individual who directly or indirectly: (a) [r]epresents or attempts to represent an individual for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation for financial gain; or (b) [s]eeks to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospective student-athlete's enrollment at an educational institution or from a student-athlete's potential earnings as a professional athlete." 
An "agent" includes but is not limited to "a certified contract advisor, financial advisor, marketing representative, brand manager or anyone who is employed or associated with such persons."

If a member institution discovers that a student-athlete is ineligible, it must report it to the NCAA. It also must declare the student-athlete ineligible and withhold him or her from competition. If an institution does not declare the student-athlete ineligible, it is subject to penalties. Penalties include but are not limited to vacation of games in which the student-athlete participated.

Before competing each academic year, a student-athlete must sign a statement providing information relating to his or her eligibility and amateur status. If a student-athlete practices or competes while ineligible, he or she loses one-year of eligibility.

In 2013, a new penalty structure was developed, replacing "major" and "secondary" violations. Now, there are four types of violations: Levels I-IV. "Level I" violations are severe breaches of conduct. "Level IV" violations are incidental or technical. Level I violations seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model, and include those intended to provide a substantial or extensive competitive or other advantage, or a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit. In appropriate cases, aggravating factors can result in higher penalties, and mitigating factors can result in lower penalties.

In the Johnny Manziel autograph situation, Texas A&M University is subject to penalties if it allows Manziel to compete while ineligible. The most likely penalty is the vacation of games, but if Texas A&M was certain of Manziel's ineligibility and allowed him to play anyway, more severe penalties could be imposed. If the allegations are true, Texas A&M is not responsible for Manziel's conduct, but it is responsible if it plays an ineligible player.

Unlike the 2010 Cam Newton case, Manziel's might involve aggravating factors. Newton maintained that he was unaware of his father's solicitation of money from Mississippi State University. This prevented the NCAA from imposing penalties on Newton or Auburn University, because he could maintain a degree of "plausible deniability."

With Manziel, allegedly there is incriminating video of him during the autograph sessions betraying his willful violation of NCAA rules. Before Manziel would play in 2013, he must provide a statement to the NCAA regarding his eligibility. If he should be ineligible but says he is eligible, he lies and is in greater trouble with the NCAA.

The NCAA does not necessarily have to prove that Manziel accepted money, because Manziel's personal assistant was an "agent" for Manziel. Manziel's family hired the assistant, and he allegedly solicited money from autograph dealers in exchange for Manziel's autograph. Seeking impermissible benefits through an agent does not require the actual receipt of money to be a violation.

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